Friday, September 17, 2010

The Sourdough Survives!

When I first drove out to the Midwest from the East Coast in June I forgot my sourdough starter. Gasp! I know, how could I? It's like a pet and I was very upset about leaving it and worried it would die before I could get back to MA to get it. Luckily for me I have a very good friend (and former roommate) who was kind enough to feed it for me. About three months later it made the 12 hour trip with me in a cooler in my car in the August heat. I had fed it a few times before leaving MA and lo and behold if it didn't perk right up! The long period of dormancy doesn't seem to have harmed it much. The first time I used it here in MI it doubled on the first feeding and more than doubled with the next. It smells a little different, so perhaps some of the microbes etc have died out. I'll have to make a few batches of bread to see if it tastes or behaves differently.

For my first sourdough loaf in the new place I made a seeded whole wheat sourdough from The Bread Bible. It was a really hearty loaf with a great texture and nutty flavour. I think I'm going to convert my starter to whole wheat next time so I can get even more whole wheat flour in it (I think the recipe is about 50% whole wheat).

I actually let the loaves proof for too long because I was ready to bake them but then had to put them in the fridge at the last minute (alas, life comes before bread), but they seemed to turn out okay anyway. I could detect some off flavours maybe from the dead yeast/overfermenting but my roommate couldn't tell. Overall it turned out well.

homemade pasta

My roommate visited a friend recently who had a pasta maker and loved making pasta so much that she bought one of her own! Needless to say, I was very excited by this decision. I had never made pasta before with a proper pasta roller and as much as I love the hearty thick egg noodles I can make with just a rolling pin, they're not really appropriate for most pasta dishes.

So this is the pasta machine from Italy. It's a hand crank pasta maker, which means it's much easier for two people to make the pasta than just one. D's working on the dough here.

We don't have a drying rack for the freshly made pasta, but hangers work fine for now. D made lasagna noodles first (and made some amazing lasagna the next day).

And then we switched to fettuccine. My involvement at this point consisted of turning the crank. After just a couple pasta making sessions, D's become quite good at getting a feel for the dough in terms of moisture content and thickness. I haven't tried my hand at it yet but I plan to soon.

We let the pasta dry then packed in in ziplocs and put it in the cupboard. It'll keep for a while this way, which is great.

For dinner one night my housemate made this incredible ragout. She grilled eggplant (we had some trouble getting the charcoal hot enough) and then cubed it and added garlic, onions, mushrooms, zucchini, tomatoes and fresh herbs (I think that's everything). The eggplant had this incredible charred flavor and was really meaty without being tough or rubbery. I'm still learning to cook eggplant well and have had my share of mess ups.

Here's the fresh fettuccine in some boiling water. It took longer to cook than either of us expected, but that could have been in part the pot we were using.

We put the ragout on the pasta, added some grated parmesan, and a Bell's Oberon for an incredible summer meal!

Monday, September 6, 2010

great summer lunch

I made polenta for dinner the other day and (as always seems to be the case when I make polenta) was eating leftovers for days. I sauted some garlic, red onions, and red pepper in evoo, then added the water, cornmeal, & salt (whisking etc to keep it from lumping). I diced up a couple of tomatoes and various herbs and tossed them in (oregano, rosemary, thyme, basil). After the cornmeal was cooked I added about half a cup of grated parmesan then poured the mess into a lined cookie sheet to cool (put it in the fridge).

For dinner I cut the polenta into triangles and put them on the grill (very tricky but delicious) and my housemate made a summer veggie ragout (yellow squash, mushrooms, red peppers, greens, red wine & other deliciousness) that we put on top.

For a leftover polenta lunch I made a quick and light lentil soup that was a really tasty companion to the polenta. I sauteed some onions, garlic, and two jalapenos, then added 2-3 cups of water and about 3/4 a cup of red lentils (probably less, I didn't really measure). Brought the lot to a boil until the lentils were done, then added a handful of torn basil and sliced cherry tomatoes (they're super sweet). I actually spooned some of the soup onto the polenta, which was also quite tasty.

Ginger Beer!

This weekend my housemate and I bottled the first batch of beer we brewed in our new place! It's a ginger beer we brewed on August 16th. It's not technically beer because they're no grain in it so I suppose it's more of a fruit wine. But comparable non alcoholic ginger drinks (like Reed's) are called ginger beer so I think the name calls to mind the appropriate flavour.

We started with something like 1 kilo of ginger, 2 lemons, some cloves, cinnamon, and maybe nutmeg (my housemate did the recipe mostly off the top of her head so the details are sketchy).

We couldn't find a good brew pot in the area that didn't cost an arm and a leg so for now we're using a Ball canning pot that has about a 5.25 gallon capacity. It's working fine so far, but the size means we can't do any all grain brews.

All the ginger needed to be ground up. It was tough work for my food processor. The stringy ginger kept getting caught up in everything. The house smelled incredible though.

The lemons were sliced and tossed in water (about 2 gallons) with the ginger and spices and about 2 kilos of raw sugar.

We boiled the crap out of it for a while.

Then we strained it and brought the temperature down so we could add the yeast. We used a champagne yeast (another brewing first for me) so it could handle the high sugar content.

Then we let it ferment away! It bubbled quite a lot for two weeks. The lid on the top bowed out because of all of the air pressure that built up inside the bucket. We bottled it into 12oz bottles and I think we ended up with 55 bottles total, so the batch was a bit more than 5 gallons. We tasted some when we bottled it and it was really good (pre-bottling the beer is alcoholic but not carbonated or cold, so it doesn't taste quite like the finished product). It has a solid ginger flavour with a spicy kick to it. Definitely a good way to start the year.